Climate Grief Is Different

PATRICIA REMY – Greenzine readers are a well-informed audience. Many of you will be familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s description of the facets (originally named “phases”) of grief. She identified denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as the experiences comprising mourning. “Facets” is an unofficial yet more fitting term than “phases”, because, as Kubler-Ross herself explained, the reactions making up the process of grieving do not represent a linear path, but are circuitous, wind and turn, and can overlap. They do not necessarily occur in order.

Kubler-Ross published her book, On Death and Dying, at the end of the Sixties. To my mind it represents a major contribution to the culture of the past half-century. The emergence of palliative care as a therapeutic practice for the dying and grief counselling for the bereaved can be attributed in large part to Kubler-Ross’s efforts.

In the meantime, Kubler-Ross’s thinking has been applied in broader contexts. It has moved from the bedside of dying patients into the wider social realm and used to understand general experiences of hurt and loss. Persons suffering a disability acquired through sickness or accident grieve their hurt and loss. Those displaced by war, persecution, or economic desperation experience the pain associated with the loss of their homeland and culture.

The bereaved are encouraged to do their “grief work”. This requires a good measure of courage. Grief can be overwhelming. It is exceedingly uncomfortable to open oneself to the pain which loss generates. It necessitates the support of “companions”. For individuals, only by ploughing through grief can a person hope to reach the other side, where, despite the loss, life can take on new perspectives, possibilities, and meaning.

And then there is climate- or eco-grief.

I venture this thesis: Only when we, the majority of humanity, have faced the progressive and impending loss of our biosphere and feel the pain of our fellow creatures as our own, will we as a species move to limit climate change. If we grasp the destruction of our environment only when, as a friend of mine says, we stand where our homes once did, up to our hips in mud amid a burnt-out and flooded forest, then it will be too late. The environment as boomers experienced it in their childhood, is done and gone. We have already reached the stage of damage control.

We are simultaneously mourners as well as companions to one another in our climate grief. Only in community persists the possibility that we will not be overwhelmed while doing our grief-work. Even then, there is no guarantee that there will still exist another side which we can reach.

Personally, my bet is on the rodents. They will shelter in their burrows and live on the remains of our civilization. That should get them through the first 500 years after the demise of H. sapiens. Within several million years, the eyes of some of them will have evolved more to the front of the head, granting them binocular vision. Their little hands, already quite deft, will have developed opposing thumbs. They will become bolder and larger. Maybe they will be the ones to build a new civilization on Earth. I hope they learn to cooperate better than we have. And learn the arithmetic of living within their environmental limits.

Climate Grief Is Different © 2023 by Patricia Remy in the Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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